Official: No Public-Private Partnership for State-Chartered Special Schools
Instead, Cherokee Charter Academy received a one-time appropriation from the state to open for the 2011-2012 school year.
When the state found the money that made it possible for Cherokee Charter Academy to open, the director of the Georgia Department of Education's charter schools division said it was his "understanding that the Governor's office has been working on a public-private partnership with corporate, individual, and foundation charter school supporters to raise these extra funds."
Now an official in Gov. Nathan Deal's office says that no such partnership was ever established.
Erin Hames, deputy chief of staff of policy, said the school received a "direct appropriation" in one-time funds totaling approximately $1.6 million from Deal for the 2011-2012 school year because school officials had already given out contracts to teachers and hired other staff members.
Cherokee Charter Academy lost $2.9 million in local funding after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the Georgia Charter Schools Commission as unconstitutional, causing the school to lose its charter. It was denied a local charter by a 4-3 vote in June by the Cherokee County Board of Education and, at that point, received approval from the state Board of Education to become a state-chartered special school. However, that designation meant that the school would not receive any local funding, a position that Hames said many charter schools throughout the state found themselves in, prompting the direct appropriation from Deal.
“Essentially, the charter schools were faced with operating budgets of half of what they were expected to have,” Hames said.
Although Cherokee Charter Academy received money from the state to open its doors this year, Hames said the school will need to come up with its own funding in the future.
Richard Page, vice president of development for Charter Schools USA, the Florida company that operates Cherokee Charter, said the Georgia Schools Foundation and the Walton Foundation are among a group of organizations working on creating strategies to deal with the funding issue.
“That’s really being developed right now,” Page said. “I can’t go into specifics.”
However, Page said that one strategy could involve the state legislature, though no bills have been written yet.
“They may be a part of it,” he said.
When asked if parents are concerned about the status of the school for the 2012-2013 school year, Page said the school has fantastic parents who are supportive and “continue to fight.”
“I think they’re pretty informed,” he said. “They also come to the table and are by our side.”
Page said he thinks a plan for funding the school will evolve over the next four to five months and be resolved by the spring.
Cherokee Charter Academy is Cherokee County’s first charter school. Though 995 students were selected to be part of the school's inaugural class during a May lottery, only 700 enrolled during the school's first week. Attendance has increased to 825 students.